A wise, although grizzled and slightly jaded, hunting buddy once asked me if I wanted to know the secret to killing more ducks. It was guaranteed, he said. Of course, I had to know and pressed him for the answer. Was it some underground call I’d never heard of, closely guarded by the keepers of the keys? Could it be a new decoy strategy revolving around odd numbers of decoys with an algorithmic relationship between pintail and mallard distribution? Probably not. My buddy could barely balance a checkbook. Surely he would not lead me down this road only to tell me something cliché like, “Patience has killed more ducks than any call or decoy.” So what could it be?
He finally broke a wry smile and said, “The best way to guarantee you shoot more ducks is to be rich.”
Awesome. That was about as lame as the patience thing and not nearly as impressive as algorithmic decoy strategies. In fact it seemed closed minded and not fair at all. I asked what he meant and he explained that wealth was the only way to afford a piece of prime duck hunting property that was managed, consistently had ducks, and would receive little to no hunting pressure. Well, the last part made sense, but that kind of wealth was a pipe dream to a farm kid from Georgia so I dismissed it, burying his words deep in my subconscious.
Many years later I received an invitation from a college friend who had done very well for himself as a hedge fund manager on Wall Street. Now to be honest, I had no clue what a hedge fund manager was until after college. I’d heard the term thrown around before, but figured it was what ritzy people called their landscapers. Only later did I learn degrees in finance, not liberal arts, buy duck lodges. But the next best thing to owning your own slice of heaven is to have a friend who invites you along for the ride, so when he asked me to join him on a hunt to a very exclusive private duck lodge, I pounced. On the ride to Arkansas from Georgia, I remembered my old friend telling me, in essence, that money will buy you ducks. I could only imagine what wonders of winged wizardry awaited me at the end of this journey.
Seven hours later, we arrived at the lodge; an enormous 15- bedroom timber-frame cabin complete with full indoor and outdoor kitchens, two extravagant dining halls, and a trophy room that rivaled the Smithsonian wildlife collection. It was situated smack dab in the middle of a 2,000-acre impoundment of control flooded timber and had a boat house built into the basement. The boathouse was enclosed so you would dress in your waders in a heated locker-room-type area. Members had their own cypress locker with a brass name plate stating their name and first year of membership. Guests had their own locker as well, brass name plate included with Guest 1, Guest 2, and Guest 3 lined up on the far side of the room. I was Guest Number 2.
On the morning of our first hunt, after a breakfast prepared by the pastry chef (yep, they had a pastry chef), I descended the stairs to the boat room with my old friend’s words resounding in my head. So far, this far eclipsed anywhere I’d been to chase waterfowl or any other type of game. Granted, most of my forays, both prior to and since, have consisted of sleeping in a cold tent, truck, or shady hotel and eating a healthy diet of potted meat sandwiches with cheap beer. Even as a neophyte to the extravagant, I could tell this was the best of everything money could buy.
On the ride to our blind, I surmised everything seemed better. The sunrise more vivid, the air sweeter, and the ducks, oh surely the ducks would be in lockstep as if themselves on the payroll. A short boat ride deposited us at a very clean, very well-appointed blind. There were two heaters, the benches were new with thick, soft, padding, and it was impeccably brushed to the point I would have not been surprised if someone had told me a professional camouflage consultant had been brought in. It was five minutes before shooting light. I was a child again, waiting in my room on Christmas morning until I heard my parents stirring. But this was better than Christmas morning, this was duck hunting.
The last minute before shooting light came and went. For three hours we sat in that blind. There was a lot of conversation about yield curves, emerging market funds, and something called a negative carry pair, which incidentally, is not when your dog fails to retrieve two ducks. I learned that I am not well diversified, I’m still not sure if that was in regard to monetary or social divergence. More importantly, not a duck was shot nor seen during that three hours in this duck Valhalla. I heard only a few shots around us in the immediate vicinity and a few more in the distance.
The next two days afforded me the pleasure of some fine company among men I would otherwise have never crossed paths, amazing cuisine, the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, and a total of four ducks. Two mallards, one gadwall, and one wood duck. Everyone else did about the same in terms of ducks shot, so it’s not like one blind was the chairman’s hotspot and everyone else got what they got. No, this was as democratic as it comes, both in the camp and in the natural world.
As we drove home, I smiled at my old friend’s words. That money can buy ducks. It’s like the adage that says money can’t buy happiness. With outdoor pursuits, we find ourselves, regardless of social status or monetary fortune, on a level playing field. The fish will not readily bite a fly if it is poorly presented by a brick layer or the chairman of the board, same as the ducks cannot be summoned to appear before the court of the king. A phone call from some buddies who were returning from a dirt-bag trip to a backwoods timber hold replete with muddy dogs, two flat tires, a leaky boat, and several limits of greenheads summed it up best. “Man, you should have been here!”
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.